How to Firmly Say No Without Coming Off Like a Jerk

by Brett & Kate McKay on August 29, 2010 · 53 comments

in Dating, Fatherhood, Friendship, Marriage, Relationships & Family

We’ve talked a lot about the Nice Guy Syndrome here on AoM. You know the guy. Big time people pleaser, always puts others before himself, lets people walk all over him. Heck, maybe you’re that guy. These so-called Nice Guys might appear happy on the outside, but on the inside they’re feeling burnt out, resentful, and depressed.

One trap that a lot of “Nice Guys” fall into is always saying “Yes!” to every request that comes their way. These “yes men” are afraid that people will stop liking them if they say no. By saying yes to everything, the Nice Guy piles on the obligations and deadlines to his already busy schedule. He ends up spreading himself so thin that he can’t even fulfill the obligations he said yes to in the first place, which in a sadly funny, yet totally predictable turn of events causes people to resent Mr. Nice Guy- the very result Mr. Nice Guy was trying to avoid by saying yes in the first place!

A man firmly sets his core values, goals, and priorities, makes time to tend to them, and says no to things that conflict with what’s important. He doesn’t lose sight of the best, by pursuing the endless opportunities for the merely good.

What Nice Guys don’t realize is that it’s possible to have this kind of backbone and be able to say no while maintaining positive relationships with others. In fact, it’s even possible to say no to people and leave them thinking you’re a pretty swell guy.

If you’ve been having trouble saying no to people, we’ve provided some pointers on how to do it without coming off as a cad.

Don’t make the no personal. Instead of making it seem like you’re saying no because you don’t like the person, think their cause is crazy, or their parties are boring, just let them know you’re simply “following the rules.” By this I mean that your pre-set personal rules prohibit you from saying yes.

  • “I can’t come to the Polka Festival on Monday night because Monday night is always family night for us.”
  • “I can’t donate to your charity. We’ve made a decision to set aside our charitable dollars for our church and the Red Cross.”
  • “I appreciate the invite, but I don’t date women with more than eleven cats.”

Let them know you wish you could say yes. Letting someone know you sympathize with their request, but still can’t grant it, will soften the blow of the no.

  • “I would have loved to hire you-you’ve got just the right personality for the position. But HR has an internal candidate whom they’ve already pegged for the job.”
  • “It would have been a great honor to speak at your convention. I’ve enjoyed attending it every year and have always been impressed with the presentations. But I’ve just got too much on my plate at this time.”

Show them that you thought it over before saying no. Feeling like you’re getting the brush off can be just as hurtful as hearing “no.” Show the person that you took the time to understand their request before turning it down.

  • “This was a very entertaining screenplay. I really like how in the third scene the man-eating robot and the platypus become friends. But the studio is really concentrating on romantic comedies at this time.”

Offer a “consolation prize.” If you can’t fully grant someone’s request, think of a way you can still do something to help out.

  • “I can’t referee at the game, but I will donate a keg for the after celebration.”
  • “I can’t come on the Scout trip, but I can volunteer at the Pinewood Derby this year.”

Show them that your “no” is really in their best interest. You can take some of the sting out of your no by showing the person that having you on board wouldn’t have worked out anyway.

  • Your newsletter is always so topnotch. Even if I could have found time to crank out some articles for you, they wouldn’t have met the standard of quality you are known for.”
  • Even if I had chaperoned the all-night lock-in, I probably would have fallen asleep, leaving some kid to shoot his eye out with an airsoft gun.”

Say no by helping the person say no to himself. Web designers, barbers, and other creatives understand the frustration of having clients request something they know will simply not look good or turn out well. But if you say no outright, the client may become angry and defensive. Instead, ask them about their goals and then kindly show them why their suggestion wouldn’t help them achieve it.

  • “If you’re going for a simple, modern look on your webpage, then all these rainbows and unicorns in the background would distract from that. Let me show you some examples that may be more of what you’re looking for.”
  • “You’ve got a chin that makes Jay Leno look like Paul Giamatti. That haircut would only make it look even bigger.”

Let them know what it would take to get a “yes.” Don’t make the situation seem hopeless if it’s not.

  • “I can’t give you an A on this paper. But you’re almost there. Next time, include a stronger thesis statement and more supporting evidence and your grade will definitely improve.”

Expose holes in their request. If someone comes to you with an idea that’s never going to go anywhere no matter who they talk to or how they tweak it, it does him no good to sugarcoat your no. But a “Get out of here, nutso!” isn’t the way to go either. Instead, ask them some questions that gently expose the holes in their plan. Help them see for themselves how untenable their idea is; you’re doing them a service.

Just say no. It turns out that DARE was right-sometimes you just need to “say no.” If someone is wasting your time and doesn’t respect you, there’s no need soften your denial. Tell them no and walk away.

A final note. While these pointers will help you soften the blow of a no, they should not be said with any equivocation or hemming and hawing. While remaining polite and warm, you must also be firm and confident. Say your piece and let that be that. Don’t let someone guilt you into doing something by making you feel bad about your decision. There’s no pride to be had in saying yes, even to good causes, simply because you’re too afraid to say no. But you will find self-respect in making decisions that are in line with core values and priorities, regardless of what others think of you.

What are your tips for saying no politely but firmly? Share your advice with us in the comments!

{ 53 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Will August 30, 2010 at 12:26 am

There was a great post by this buddhist guy.
I’m not sure if I found it through here, but it bears mentioning.

“The Good Guy Contract” Here’s the link: http://www.happinessinthisworld.com/2009/05/24/the-good-guy-contract/

2 Michael August 30, 2010 at 2:55 am

The biggest thing I’ve found is that I don’t really owe anyone an explanation. If I choose to give one as a gift, that’s my right, but “I’m sorry, but I can’t/won’t do that,” is fine.

3 Will August 30, 2010 at 7:31 am

While I definitely can have a difficult time saying with the fear of it often appearing personal, there are a couple of caveats to this approach, namely with the first two types of ways to say no.

A lot of times, if you try to soften the blow of saying no, or try to let the person down gently, they don’t take the hint that you can’t or don’t want to go. I had a friend in college who was always busy on the weekends, so he’d try to get people to go out and do extra-curricular things during the week. Sometimes, I could make it easily; but most of the time, I’d have other work or obligations.

Every time I’d tell him no, he’d constantly reshape his plans to fit me in it. I was moved that he wanted to include me in his plans that much, but I still couldn’t put off work that I’d been constantly putting off already. Eventually, even though I’d tried not to be the bad guy, I’d have to get forceful and tell him off.

If you’re going to let someone down easily, just be firm and stand your ground. If they’re really you’re friend, they won’t hold a “no” against you.

4 scottR August 30, 2010 at 7:54 am

If you never say no, you’ve never really said yes.

5 Brust Roethler August 30, 2010 at 9:47 am

I agree with poster #2. You don’t owe anyone an explanation. By just saying “No” you remove the capability of the requestor to alter plans to fit you in. “No” doesn’t require excuses, and by not providing one, you don’t appear to be placating them. A simple “We’re not going to do that this time” is better than “My aunt is coming in from out of town…” type excuses because you won’t come off looking like a douche, and you won’t get caught in a lie.

6 tekende August 30, 2010 at 10:39 am

I’m a cartoonist of sorts, and every now and then friends will say “hey I’ve got an idea for a comic you could draw.” Sometimes these ideas are decent, other (most) times they’re really lame. But almost without fail, they’re just not something I would want to draw even if it is a good idea. I never know what to say to these suggestions/requests, because I don’t want to tell them their idea sucks, and I feel like saying “that’s a good idea but it’s not something I’d do” probably just translates to “your idea sucks” in the suggester’s mind. I usually just say “yeah maybe” and then don’t do it and hope they forget.

Anyone have any ideas on how to say no to that sort of thing?

7 tekende August 30, 2010 at 10:41 am

(Bear in mind I’m not talking about paid commissions or anything. The people who suggest these ideas, I believe, genuinely think they’re helping me.)

8 Mars August 30, 2010 at 11:17 am

Great point by Brust Roethler about not making excuses. They are lame, lying and pretty transparent to even the slightly educated. there can certainly be a Manliness in saying “No” an separating yourself from the crowd. I also aggree that no explinations are needed, though I always offer one if asked for after the fact.

My favorite response came from a very wealthy rancher NE of Austin, TX who was constantly being asked for money, to serve on this board, etc. His pad response: “I don’t think I’d be a good candidate for that”.

tekende – try just sticking to your rules: I chose early in my career not to work in collaboration. While that’s probably a great cartoon, I just do not think I could do it justice for you. My cartoons foolow a theme I have organized well in advance. etc.

9 Brian August 30, 2010 at 12:13 pm

tekende,

You already have the answer in your post. Tell them that their ideas are not the things that you draw. If they understand anything about art or artists, they will understand

10 Hugo Stiglitz August 30, 2010 at 12:15 pm

tekende,

I would say something along the lines of, “I already have a lot of personal projects I need to perfect and finish” or “that idea just doesn’t fit with my style of drawing.” Or, you could say, “I’m busy enough as it is — try to give it a go yourself!”

11 David C. August 30, 2010 at 12:38 pm

I agree that you sometimes don’t owe anyone any explanation and should just say no. Does seem to be the “manly” route. But in the early stages of business or personal relationships, just telling people no sans any kind of “softening” or reasoning is not going to get you very far at all. I have to turn down proposals every day and if I just gave a gruff no, I’d be out of business soon enough. I think that’s why it gets easier to say no as you get older. You get more established in your career and your relationships, people know you, and you don’t have to worry about offending people so much.

12 Mark August 30, 2010 at 12:39 pm

Tekende,

As a preacher I get LOTS of sermon suggestions, some of which are pretty bizarre (I should write a book), most of which are useless and some would probably get me canned. I tell all “suggesters” that I schedule all my preaching on a quarterly basis (I do – preaching does require planning) and that I will drop their idea in my ideas folder so it’ll be there the next time I do scheduling. Then I do. Of course, when sked time comes up I discard all the bad ideas but telling people this seems to satisfy and I’ve never had anybody say “Whatever happened to my sermon idea?”

13 Gary V August 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm

I’ve had this conversation with pushy people who are used to getting what they want:

“Can you do this for me?”

“I’m sorry, but no.”

“Why?”

“Because I don’t want to.”

For my honesty I’m rewarded by being called an A-hole. Then of course, some pushy people will persist and try to guilt me into fulfilling their requests. Since I am one of those people that gets upset when someone doesn’t understand that “no means no” I try to distance myself from such people. That includes salespeople.

My opinion is that the problem lies in that there is a mindset in our culture of “don’t take no for an answer.” The problem is with those people, because very often one should take no for an answer. The problem is not with how people say no.

14 Kawika August 30, 2010 at 4:23 pm

Awesome, awesome, awesome post. I definitely fall into the “nice guy” category and find myself continuously overworked sometimes because of it…. It takes a man to know how to say “no” at the right time, without equivocating, and in a way that will help soften the blow. Thanks!

15 Mary August 30, 2010 at 5:05 pm

This is a really good blog. Good article. Keep up the good work.

16 tekende August 30, 2010 at 5:13 pm

Thanks, guys! Good advice!

17 Willem August 30, 2010 at 6:18 pm

Any suggestions for when the person just doesn’t give up (ie: Telemarketer?)

I always feel bad for just hanging up on them.

18 Chris kavanaugh August 30, 2010 at 7:57 pm

What do we do that say’s YES, you can even pose the question? I am sitting in my chair, drink in hand, Bizet’s THE PEARL FISHERS PLAYING AND bam!bam!bam!
I look in my peephole. If it isn’t the police,my priest or publisher’s clearinghouse with balloons the person is selling subsriptions or salvation.
My apartment complex has posted ‘no solicitation,no tresspassing signs’ I figure anybody can’t read or disregards them doesn’t ahve anything I would say yes to to begin with.
My personal space and privacy extend beyond my driveway too. We’ve lost that concept in this ever more noisome collective of gadgets a Borg would salivate over.
I’ve solved this by removing myself sans this computer and a vintage Ma Bellblack rotary phone.

19 Debbie M August 30, 2010 at 8:19 pm

I feel better about hanging up on telemarketers by first saying, “Sorry, I’m not interested at this time” and, if I’m feeling really guilty, “You’d better move on to your next call.” Then I hang up right away without waiting for an answer. And yes, sometimes I do have to interrupt them to say anything at all.

20 Hitler August 31, 2010 at 12:11 am

A lot of these “no’s” seem very insincere. The last thing you want to do is say no with a false compliment.

If you have a good relationship with a person, you probably don’t have to give a reason for saying no, other than you’re not available to help, or you just don’t want to.

A little anecdote from my experience. This was a minor incident no doubt, but interesting. I am growing a few giant sequioas from seed, and I offered my dad one. He asked if I would give him the biggest one(one was much larger than the rest), and I said no, and said very matter of factly it was because I wanted to keep that one. More than anything I think he was pleased that I was so direct and honest, and he said that people really appreciate it.

Very minor incident no doubt, but don’t give people an insincere reason. Be completely honest and sincere and people will probably not be too upset. If they are, you’ve done all you should have, and they can’t say you gave them some BS excuse.

21 Brett McKay August 31, 2010 at 12:20 am

I don’t think any of these no’s are insincere. The only reason they would be insincere is if you were lying. And in that case, you shouldn’t use that no. They should all be based on honesty. It’s quite possible to be honest and polite.

22 K Smith August 31, 2010 at 1:44 am

Tip – when saying no, don’t use “but” when giving an explanation. Using “but” weakens your “no.” Just state the facts.

Another tip – offer an alternative.

I have used a variation of this one many, many times – “I appreciate you thinking of me. Family obligations preclude me from devoting the time required to fulfill the duties of the position. Perhaps George Johnson may be interested, Everybody raved about what a great job he did two years ago as concession stand coordinator.”

23 Phil August 31, 2010 at 1:59 am

Tom Chiarella wrote a good piece arguing for a simple “No” here: http://www.esquire.com/features/influence/say-no-0508

24 Paul August 31, 2010 at 4:32 am

smile, be polite, be direct. Don’t make up stories or excuses; they degrade you, and often come back to bite you.

25 Summer August 31, 2010 at 10:03 am

I find that a smile with a twinkle in it and a simple “you know, I just don’t want to be bothered”, or a variation thereof, often works well. Everyone can relate to feeling exactly like that on occasion; they just wish they had the nerve to say it.

26 No-mad August 31, 2010 at 11:28 am

The greater point that this article alludes to is that NO has a mystique about it. Clearly the article is written because in this day and age people are soft, malleable and directionless. NO meanwhile oozes conviction, confidence, and mystery. Many of the problems in this world are the result of people not saying or accepting no. And the consequence of that is that less people say it when they mean it. But as much as politics and pop culture is moved by yes-men, in the real world NO is the power word.

I promise every one of you, add 3 new NOs to your day and you will find yourself more popular, more in demand, and absolutely definitely more popular with the women. Women LOVE the word NO. They act like they hate it, but start saying NO to women and they will find you irresistible. And don’t do any of this sissy “qualifying” of your NOs. NO is a cool word precisely because its short, firm and final. If someone ASKS for an explanation then you can fall back on one of these tricks. But you will find that is you perfect your NO, it will be so freaking cool and awesome that most will just stare in admiration.

You all may think this is total BS but you couldn’t be more wrong. I am an average Joe with average looks and intellect. But I can work the NO like few living men can. Sometimes I say NO and people say thank you. Many times I have said NO and women have insisted YES! (if you know what I mean). It is a lost art. It is a pickup line, a power move, and the ultimate cool. Learn different intonations too. Have an “I’m disappointed to say this” NO, a “you’re not even close to as cool as me” NO, a “you know you’re ready to do anything to make me say yes” NO, and of course the tried and true “I will punch you in the face” NO.

NO is the manliest word in the world (the only thing manlier is a grunt which I’ll address at a later time). Don’t soften it, shine it, sharpen it and take on the world with it…

27 No-mad August 31, 2010 at 11:57 am

The greater point that this article alludes to is that NO has a mystique about it. Clearly the article is written because in this day and age people are soft, malleable and directionless. NO meanwhile oozes conviction, confidence, and mystery. Many of the problems in this world are the result of people not saying or accepting no. And the consequence of that is that less people say it when they mean it. But as much as politics and pop culture is moved by yes-men, in the real world NO is the power word.

I promise every one of you, add 3 new NOs to your day and you will find yourself more popular, more in demand, and absolutely definitely more popular with the women. Start saying NO to women and they will find you irresistible. And don’t do any of this sissy “qualifying” of your NOs. NO is a cool word precisely because its short, firm and final. If someone ASKS for an explanation then you can fall back on one of these tricks. But you will find that is you perfect your NO, it will be so freaking cool and awesome that most will just stare in admiration.

I am an average Joe with average looks and intellect. But I can work the NO like few living men can. Sometimes I say NO and people say thank you. Many times I have said NO and women have insisted YES! (if you know what I mean). It is a lost art. It is a pickup line, a power move, and the ultimate cool. Learn different intonations too. Have an “I’m disappointed to say this” NO, a “you’re not even close to as cool as me” NO, a “you know you’re ready to do anything to make me say yes” NO, and of course the tried and true “I will punch you in the face” NO. NO is the manliest word in the world (the only thing manlier is a grunt which I’ll address at a later time). Don’t soften it, shine it, sharpen it and take on the world with it…

28 Puzzled August 31, 2010 at 12:00 pm

I first really said no when I ran for office. “Will you support this pet policy of mine?” “No.” “Why not? Is it because you hate children?” “Because it’s wrong.”

29 Puzzled August 31, 2010 at 12:12 pm

Also, sometimes it helps to see an example. I recommend watching one of the film adaptations of “A Man for All Seasons.” If More can say “no” at such a cost, certainly I can bear the cost of my annoying neighbor being pissed.

Of course, no is not always acceptable. As a manager, if I asked someone to do something extra and they said no, I had no issue. If they refused to do their job, well, that was an issue.

30 Puzzled August 31, 2010 at 12:19 pm

Oh, and something else. After you’ve practiced saying no to your wife, girlfriend, neighbor, boss, employees, students, and so on, you might want to try the big, really important no’s. Such as this one: No, I am not a terrorist and will not let you take pornographic pictures of me. No, you will not take naked pictures of my children. No, I will not go with you. No, you may not enter my home. No, I do not consent to a search of my car. No, I do not have anything illegal, I do not wish for you to paw around in my things. The same principles apply – having ground rules and not deviating.

31 Sean August 31, 2010 at 8:20 pm

I agree with the posts about dishonesty. Most of the strategies in this article seem to employ some form of dishonesty, especially the ones that involve using excuses. If your excuses are legitimate, then this is fine, but I think telling a lie causes as much anxiety as the conflict that can arise from saying no. The honest strategies such as, “Say no by helping the person say no to himself”, “Let them know what it would take to get a ‘yes’” seem like good solutions, but they are solutions that could lead to conflict. Somebody who is a “yes man” because he is too anxious about the conflict that could come from saying “no” will not easily use these strategies.

I think honesty is the way to go when saying no, even if it will sometimes lead to conflict. If it causes you less anxiety, when you want to say no to somebody, there are probably a lot of other people who want to, or already have done the same thing. One of the hardest things for me to overcome is a fear of conflict, but sometimes it is the only way to set boundaries with others, and with yourself. The whole idea of saying “no” is to afford yourself some direction and freedom in your life, rather than others. By telling a lie, you will squelch that freedom, and burden yourself with maintaining it.

However, I think there is a balance with saying “no” and “yes”. I think it is good to agree to things that are outside your comfort zone, instead of always refusing. “No” is not an inherently good principle to live your life by, as “yes” is not either.

32 Michael G August 31, 2010 at 10:48 pm

Great article. As others have mentioned here, I don’t feel the answer ‘no’ needs any kind of qualification. For me, it’s kinda like “What’s your favorite color.” If there was a right answer, you wouldn’t have asked me.
That’s what’s wrong with people today; everyone wants to be liked by everyone.
Now…on the reverse for ‘softening the blow.’
Think about all the times you made plans with someone, only for them to flake out at the last minute; you always get the impression they had no intention to follow through with the plan in the first place. Most people seem to view this as acceptable behavior for some reason, while to me it’s lying, and there is no honor in lying. I would so much rather someone tell me ‘no.’

33 Jack Newport August 31, 2010 at 10:54 pm

Tekende, my idea for you would be to tell them: “thanks. I’m not sure if I’ll use that idea or not, but I’ll keep it under advisement and I appreciate it very much.” And then, while they watch, get a new manilla folder and write the person’s name on the tab and insert any materials that they may’ve given you and then, again, look them in the eye and thank them again sincerely, with a slight, affirmative nod.

34 Michael G August 31, 2010 at 10:57 pm

@No-mad
Just read your post, spot on. By stating ‘no,’ you are commanding respect, no seeking it. This is the behavior of men. Men don’t need permission or excuses, men are the the masters of their own domains.

35 Stephen August 31, 2010 at 11:03 pm

A number of the suggestions involve explaining that the reason for not being able to do it lies with someone else.

““This was a very entertaining screenplay. I really like how in the third scene the man-eating robot and the platypus become friends. But the studio is really concentrating on romantic comedies at this time.””
“I would have loved to hire you-you’ve got just the right personality for the position. But HR has an internal candidate whom they’ve already pegged for the job.”

While these can be absolutely the gospel truth there’s always a risk that your “no because Bob is the bad guy” may rebound on you in terms of you being perceived as someone who will pass the blame to someone else to save face (maybe even if you pass the blame to someone who was responsible for it). That doesn’t mean that if HR actually does want to hire someone else and you want this guy but you’ve been overruled you can’t say that but it’s something to use in moderation.

36 Brandon September 1, 2010 at 5:37 am

Brett,

I too have to disagree with a lot of these suggestions. They are insincere.
Your response to Hitler’s point: “I don’t think any of these no’s are insincere. The only reason they would be insincere is if you were lying. And in that case, you shouldn’t use that no. They should all be based on honesty. It’s quite possible to be honest and polite.”

Eh, I suspect you are being a little (unintentionally) disingenuous here. Case in point, two of your own examples strongly imply that the no-sayer is being insincere:
(1) “I can’t come to the Polka Festival on Monday night because Monday night is always family night for us.” Unless I am mistaken, it seems pretty clear that “Polka Festival” here is supposed to represent an invitation to an unappealing event, and for the responder to use “family night” as a reason he is saying no would be lying. Perhaps I am assuming too much about Polka Night, but the other example: (2) ““I appreciate the invite, but I don’t date women with more than eleven cats.”” Cat woman is clearly meant to be psychotic woman, that’s why you don’t want to date her – the number of cats is just tellingly incidental.

Granted, I know these examples are light-hearted and half-serious, and I’m being nit-picky, but I think they serve as great examples of just how easy it is to do wrong by trying to do right. What if Polka guy says “Hey, great news – Polka Night was moved to Wednesday! or if Psycho-lady said “Mitsy and Cotton ran away, so now I’m down to ten – you can date me!”? Even though these are silly examples, the sorts of people who would invite you to Polka night or have eleven cats are *exactly* the sorts of people who would be oblivious to a little kind-hearted dishonesty for the sake of their feelings, and then turn around and find some sort of nuanced exception to your excuse. This has happened to me time and again, and the tension always ends up exploding into something analogous to “I don’t want to date you because you’re a psycho! I don’t care if your stupid cats ran away! Take a hint!” and I feel terrible. The right thing would have been to say “You know, I am honestly not attracted to you.”

I know that is personal and tough, but no-saying almost always *should* be personal. Otherwise it is disingenuous.

37 Brett McKay September 1, 2010 at 11:51 am

@Brandon-

It doesn’t matter if the polka festival is a desirable or an undesirable event. It falls on a Monday night, and every Monday night is family night, so it’s out of the question for the responder either way. There is no lying or being disingenuous here. If it’s not family night for the responder, then he shouldn’t say that it is. And if polka night falls on a Wednesday, then this “no” shouldn’t be used. Perhaps the confusion is arising from the idea that each of these no’s can be used in every situation? Such is not the case. Each no should be used in a situation where the no is sincere and honest. For example, if you didn’t wish you could say yes to something, you shouldn’t pretend like you did. That would not be the right no to use in that situation.

Looking over the other no’s I can’t even readily come up with a hypothetical where they would be insincere.

I also disagree with your idea that a no should almost always be personal or else it is insincere. Many no’s have nothing to do with the person asking and everything to do with your personal circumstances.

38 Kyle E September 1, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Great article! This is a huge problem of mine. I’m just now getting to the point where I feel comfortable telling people no. Your suggestions are top notch. Thanks!

39 Matt September 1, 2010 at 10:03 pm

Funny enough, in the cases like Gary V pointed out above, the pushier the person is, the EASIER I find it to say “no.”
I think “I’m not available,” “I’ve got too much on my plate right now” or “it’s a bit out of my budget” are perfectly reasonable for turning down a lot of invites (I use them pretty frequently myself, and they’re often the truth) but it can be trickier to turn down a request for a favor.
Of course, if it’s a reasonable request, I can do it, and the person genuinely needs my help, I’ll usually say “yes.” If not, well, see pushy people above.

40 Droid Does September 3, 2010 at 9:36 am

RE: Gary V August 30, 2010 at 12:41 pm:

I dont think its about the “dont take no for an answer” society as much as it has become a problem based in the fact that the last two generation’s of workers have not heard NO for an answer from their mommy and daddy ever. In fact, they havent heard NO until they went out into the real world and got a job, which, for them, is usually right after college. So their social skills also lack.

41 MisterFox September 6, 2010 at 5:35 am

I don’t particularly have problems saying No. Sure, it’s always painful when it’s someone I care about. However, if I don’t want to fulfill their request, I just won’t. I’m glad I got there. Unfortunately, I refer way too much to the “consolation prize.” Promise them to take them out for a coffee or lunch or make it up to them otherwise, and while I always stay true to what I promise, I always think afterwards that money can’t keep a relationship going.

Oh well.

So this article was a good reminder. Thank you very much.

42 wolfshades September 6, 2010 at 1:07 pm

When ever I sense that the next word I’m going to say after “no” is “because”, I end up biting my tongue. “Because” implies that I should have otherwise said yes. Like it’s a moral imperative.

It’s not. It’s my right to say “no” and it’s my right to keep my reasons to myself. And people will think what they want to think of me – that’s their right too. The ones I know and love will appreciate that I’m being honest.

43 Dave Dee September 8, 2010 at 5:46 am

Nice one Brett (and Kate), all too often people throw out “no” with a snooty indifference towards the other party. The honest and fair approach works best for me.

44 Ben W September 16, 2010 at 1:32 pm

Wow. This article has helped me already. I generally work with my old man. He wanted me to work this weekend with him. I already had plans and wasn’t sure about how to go about saying no and not offending my own father. After a simple discussion about how I can’t break plans for something that is brought up on short notice, it worked. I couldn’t do it, and he knew it. AOM Saves the day

45 shegeek September 21, 2010 at 6:35 pm

tekende: offer to teach these people how to draw. Enthusiastically share with them the fun and empowerment of acting on their own ideas, and of honestly doing the hard work to develop their own skills. They will have to either put up or shut up.

46 Joel January 9, 2013 at 8:57 pm

What about if a woman asks you for money or to pay for her cell phone bill or is always expecting the guy to pay for everything for her and her two kids?

47 Alejandro July 24, 2013 at 9:17 am

Hey Brett and Kay,

I really love your articles, but like Hitler and Brandon I have to say I’m not too sold on the excuses you’ve made. Regarding the Polka Festivals, I think Brandon’s point was that if the reason you didn’t want to attend them in the first place was simply that you do NOT like them, then state that reason instead of saying family night (Of course, if it really FELL on family night then you could use this excuse; otherwise, if you just abhor those festivals, then just say so, politely).

I hope I expressed myself clearly. Anyway thank you for the article !

48 Nate August 28, 2013 at 5:56 pm

How about I stick with NO.

49 Aaron August 28, 2013 at 9:24 pm

Boss: Can I get you to come in tomorrow?
Me: No. (cheerfully) I’ll see you Monday, though.
Boss: But I need everyone in this Saturday.
Me: Had I been scheduled to work this Saturday I would certainly have been happy to work tomorrow.
Boss: Do you have plans that can’t be postponed?
Me: (again cheerfully) I don’t see how that’s relevant, but if you must know, I plan to not work tomorrow; and I will not postpone that plan.

Sometimes saying, “no” just for the principle of it feels GREAT! :-)

50 Kyle Richardson August 29, 2013 at 11:33 am

Your examples were making me LOLz!

51 Eric Petersen December 29, 2013 at 5:04 pm

“Sorry, unicorn seances just are not my thing. Thanks for the invite though! We can spend time together at the next event. I’ve got something coming up I think we’ll both enjoy, I’ll call you about it when I get more details.” Then of course, call them up!

52 Larry January 14, 2014 at 6:09 pm

Had a friend years ago whose standard answer to undesired requests was, “That’s just not one of the things that I do”. It always worked with no comebacks.

53 J February 15, 2014 at 1:20 am

@Brett, Brandon
Fantastic article glad you wrote it! But I think Brandon makes a valid point. Sometimes no’s can hurt. I think in the long run its important to be sincere. Making excuses and giving the person hope can in the long run lead to resentment. The true difficulty in saying no is being honest and being considerate. There’s nothing wrong with saying yes to someone, but it shouldn’t come through the cost compromising yourself and your own opinions . Thank you again for this thoughtful article.

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